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Immigration practitioners warn of ‘disastrous cliff-edge’ as Home Office moves to new digital-only immigration system by 31 December 2024


ILPA and 230 others write to Home Office with serious concerns, warning there will be a new Windrush scandal

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The Immigration Law Practitioners' Association (ILPA) and over 200 other organisations and individuals working in the field of immigration law have written to the Home Office to express their very serious concerns over the UK's impending transition to a system of digital-only eVisas.

VisaImage credit: UK GovernmentIn an open letter to the deputy director of UK Visas and Immigration, (UKVI) sent yesterday, ILPA and the others warn that the roll-out of eVisas and the "cliff-edge" deadline of 31 December 2024 for the implementation of the new digital immigration system could adversely affect millions of migrants in the UK.

The letter warns starkly: "We harbour no doubt that this will result in a second scandal, akin to Windrush, insofar as people will be unable to prove and enforce their ability to enter the UK, as well as live, work, and rent in it. Their inability to prove their status may result in them losing a home they wish to rent, being passed over for a role, and the inability to travel, including to be with family or to return to their home, school, or job in the UK."

You can download the open letter here.

The Home Office has said that the move to electronic eVisas is a key part of delivering a border and immigration system which will be 'digital by default' by 2025.

In a factsheet published in April, the Home Office explained: "Using a phased approach to implementing digital services, the intention is that by 2025 most customers will have a secure and seamless digital journey when they interact with the UK's immigration system. Over time this will see physical and paper-based products and services replaced with accessible, straightforward online and digital services (such as the 'view and prove' service) and products such as the eVisa. The Home Office has launched a phased rollout of eVisas to biometric residence permit (BRP)."

The full Home Office factsheet is available here and it explains what is happening with the move to eVisas and when it will happen.

In their open letter to UKVI yesterday, ILPA and the other organisations set out five cross-cutting concerns over the changes.

Firstly, they warn that there is a lack of harmonisation in the wider strategy for digitalisation of the immigration system.

"There does not appear to be a harmonious roadmap across the various Home Office policy teams, departments, officials, etc., which delivers a consolidated and comprehensive view of all the changes which are being introduce including with the cliff-edge deadline of 31 December 2024 … It appears as if each policy is being considered in isolation, without consideration of the full implications of other changes in policy which share the same timeline," ILPA and the other organisations commented.

Secondly, the letter expresses serious concern over the Home Office's self-imposed deadline of 31 December 2024 and the lack of a transitional phase. The organisations say this will be a "disastrous cliff-edge" for millions of migrants in the UK subject to the change.

Thirdly, the letter warns that there has been inadequate preparation for the adverse effects of technical errors in the new, digital-only system. As ILPA and the others highlight, technical errors may prevent migrants from being able to work, rent, bank or access basic services if they cannot prove their immigration status.

"The Home Office has had five years to prepare for the phasing out of BRPs and [Biometric Residence Cards], but it has built no safety net in this time, to protect individuals from the adverse effects of technology's failure, such as outage, glitches, or breaches of security," the letter states.

Fourthly, the letter emphasises that vulnerable migrants are likely to be the people who are worst affected by the cliff-edge, including migrants with disabilities and learning difficulties. Home Office engagement with vulnerable migrants has so far been insufficient, ILPA and the other organisations stated.

Finally, the letter expresses concern over the lack of public awareness over the deadline of 31 December 2024. "[C]ommunications are too late … The Home Office is only now beginning to send emails to status-holders who need to create a UKVI account to access their status," ILPA and the other organisations said. In addition, the communications that are now being sent are not clear enough and do not provide sufficient detail about the impact of the changes.

The letter sets out four brief recommendations to mitigate the adverse effects of the new digital-only immigration system. UKVI is implored to accept and action the recommendations.